A Brief History of Printing

Catalog printing

If you’re looking at a commercial printing company’s offerings, you’ll see you have many options. But how did printing progress to the point where it is today? Here’s a brief overview focusing on some of the key developments that have led to the types of printing making headlines today:

  • Early Days: Stamps and Seals

    The early progenitors of printing were hard stamps that were pressed into clay tablets. The clay was then hardened, and many examples of this kind of printing have survived. This type of printing was used at least as early as 3000 BCE.

  • Breakthrough: Movable Type

    In terms of the “press” we associate with what a modern printing company can do, the flat-bed printing press with movable type was a major innovation. Although you probably learned in school that Johannes Gutenberg made the first press of this kind around 1439, a similar movable type system was created in China around 1040 by Bi Sheng. That system was never used widely because there are so many characters in the Chinese alphabet. Movable type was much more useful for Europeans, and it became a major instrument for social change starting in the late 1400s and 1500s.

  • Modernity: Offset Printing

    The birth of the modern printing company came with the creation of the offset press in 1870. This printing process uses the combination of a custom plate and rubber “blanket” to transfer ink to the printing surface. Most major print projects, including runs of books and magazines, still use this same process. If you work for a large enough business, it’s likely that even some of your internal and marketing materials will be created by an offset printing company.

  • Computer Age: Digital Printing

    The development of the digital press in 1993 has had major implications, particularly for small businesses and private consumers. That’s because when you go through a digital printing company, that company doesn’t have to make custom plates or blankets; the project is printed directly from a digital file. That makes small runs very affordable. And even 20 years after digital printing first came on the scene, a digital printing company is still your best bet if you’re looking for rush printing.

  • The Future: 3-D Printing

    Although you may not be able to order 3-D printing from your average printing company, this amazing innovation can’t be ignored. This technology was first developed in the 1980s, but it’s only in the past half-decade or so that its use has become widespread, being applied to fields as diverse as toy manufacturing and medicine.

What other points in history do you think have been crucial leading up to what a modern printing company can do? Can you share any tips on choosing a printing company? Share your thoughts in the comments.

About: Technology

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